The single most important bat the Dodgers can add to their lineup to replace Corey Seager’s run production is hitting in the middle of the Oklahoma City Dodgers lineup in AAA.
Alex Verdugo got his feet wet earlier this season but was subsequently sent back to the minors after veteran Dodgers began to come off the disabled list. This should be Verdugo’s last AAA stint and it should come to an end very soon as the Dodgers need another bat to pick up for the loss of Seager for the 2018 season due to Tommy John surgery.
Verdugo was the second round pick out of Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Arizona, in the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft. Verdugo also drew attention from scouts as a pitcher, but ultimately the Dodgers decided to use him as an outfielder. Since Verdugo was drafted, he has hit well at every minor league level and rocketed up prospect charts. At first glance, Verdugo’s solid career numbers to date are not mind-blowing, however, it is worth pointing out that Verdugo has usually been one of the youngest players in the league at every minor league stop. He just turned 22 and has already got his feet wet with 24 games in the big leagues.
Verdugo has had his problems. After reading up on Verdugo’s history prior to being drafted by the Dodgers, and a couple off-field issues since he joined the organization, I thought Verdugo might be good trade bait to dangle for a veteran piece to help the MLB club. There are documented stories of Verdugo walking off the field as a high school player when things didn’t go his way after a disagreement with his coach, there were questions about his attitude shortly after he joined the organization, and there was, of course, his inability to make the team bus on one road trip during his first MLB callup this past September. Dave Roberts and Rich Hill addressed that specific incident, which to Verdugo’s credit, he appeared to handle well.
Verdugo’s brief stint with the club this season provided a glimpse of what he could provide a big league ballclub. In addition to his big league gold chain and flashy on-field equipment, Verdugo demonstrated the ability to hit the ball to all fields with gap power, play solid defense, display a Puig like arm, and hustle like he wants to stay in the majors.
Since Verdugo has been sent back down, he has primarily played center field and has also made some highlight reel plays there in AAA. Verdugo injured his ankle on one of the plays in the outfield and has sat out the last few OKC games. The bottom line is Verdugo can handle CF in the majors.
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Cody Bellinger has played a played a solid major league CF since Chris Taylor moved to SS to replace Seager. Max Muncy has gotten quite a bit of playing time at 1B while Bellinger has been playing CF. Muncy is a capable MLB bench player but is not the answer to replacing Seager in the Dodger lineup. This is where Verdugo comes in. Verdugo’s is a pure, professional hitter, whose upside is still unknown. He has the hitting ability to be a sweet-swinging perennial batting champ, with some power, similar to Tony Gwynn. At the least, Verdugo will be a consistent .290-.300 hitter, who hits 15-20 homers a year, and will be an on-base machine thanks to his sharp batting eye. He will also provide solid defense in CF, and few will challenge his cannon of an arm.
Verdugo can fill the #2 spot in the order vacated by Seager and allow Bellinger to bat lower in the lineup to allow him the opportunity to make adjustments and grow as an MLB hitter. This will, of course, allow Bellinger to return to 1B, and Muncy to return to AAA, where he can maintain his readiness to fill in when the next injury befalls the Dodgers.
The next NL Rookie of the Year Award could go to a third straight Dodger, Walker Buehler. I think Verdugo should be given an opportunity to give Buehler a run for his money, and at the same time solidify the #2 spot in the order till Seager returns, and hold down CF for years to come.